I HAVE seen once a stained-glass window that depicted the scene of Bethlehem. It was composed of many different pieces of colored glass, put in lead. It was a beautiful window; I will never forget it. It gave me an association with what a parish church is supposed to be.

The parish church is not just the building, much more it is the parish community. That community is composed of Christians who are all the same and united in the Catholic faith. There is the parish priest, the ministers, the members of the choir, the altar boys or girls and there are the ordinary faithful, the lay people who are all the same united with Christ as the Head of the Church and with Mary as the Mother of the Church.

Actually, the parish is like one family, the Holy Family of Bethlehem. There is the newborn Child Jesus, there is the mother Mary, there is the stepfather Joseph, there are the shepherds from the field and there are the three kings from the East. These last people are representing the People of God, the poor and the rich.

Going back to that glass window with so many different pieces of glass and so many different colors, the parish church is a community with a great variety of people. The window expresses that each one in the community is unique and important. Every piece of glass has its own shape and is unique. It has also its own color and is therefore an image of each one’s individuality in the parish community.

The red color expresses the love of each man and woman and each one has his/her own life story with its own abilities and limitations. The variety of people is actually the great wealth of the Church. Each one has his/her own role to play in the Church. What is important here is the love.

Love makes man alive; love has to do with relationships. In one way or another it is always present among people. Love has many forms and is expressed in many different ways. Red is the color of love. Aside from love between people we speak also of God’s love for people. That love of God is the center of the Church, the great mystery of God’s love.

That is the central mystery of the Church. Red is the color all over the window but there are also the yellow and golden colors that express that central Mystery of the Church that is God. In the love of the people there is always a positive and a negative side, in our own selves and in society. This negative side is expressed in the blue colors.

Injustice, for instance, is sometimes very visible but we don’t want to see it or the community disguises what really is happening. There is poverty and injustice, lack of freedom, violence and war. All this affects the life of the community and it disrespects the life of the individual.

The mystery of God’s love is everywhere present. It sanctifies life and the whole of creation. It is the source of our existence. Not only God is a mystery; also man in his deepest essence is a mystery, for himself and for others. Nature and everything that is there carries something of this mystery, something of this sacredness. It demands a respectful attitude of people towards God, man and nature.

When the People of God come together to celebrate life, they can’t escape the fact that they may have to deal with the loss of a beloved. The pain and the sorrow that are connected with this are expressed in the varieties of the colors of violet and lilac. Pain and sorrow are there when life becomes vulnerable, when relationships between people break down, when people desire belongingness but have to live without it.

The green color is a sign of hope that, despite everything, makes it possible to long for communion with God in whom eventually everybody may be his own and will come to his completion. Hope keeps us going. When we celebrate life we gradually build up the community where everybody may be there and can be his own.

Pope Francis says the church that Jesus and his disciples preached was missionary and poor which is still valid today: “Our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to the needs, desires and disappointments, despair and hope. We must restore hope to young people, help the old, be open to the future. Spread love. Be poor among the poor.”

In the document ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Pope Francis says: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat’.” TO BE CONTINUED…

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]